Prepared for the IISS/CEPS European Security Forum, Brussels, 9 September 2001

Paper prepared for the CEPS/IISS European Security Forum, 9 September 2002

How to deal with Iraq: the European perceptions

by Marta Dassù, Aspen Institute, Rome

There is no common European position on how to deal with Iraq. Confronted with the beginning of a rather intense US debate – from leaks over military planning, to the August Senate hearings – the EU has produced only one declaration, confirming the European support for UNSC Resolutions 1284 and 1409 [1], followed by a statement of the Council (July 21) concerning embargo derogations already agreed by the UN.

A more articulated "common position" – more than urging Iraq to comply with UN resolutions – is simply not there. Why? We can offer three different explanations.

My overall impression is that each of the three explanations contains a grain of truth. Which means, in brief, that a common position does not exist today; but it is also unlikely to emerge any time soon – except perhaps in a post-conflict scenario.

Since there is no "active" common stance, Europe concentrates for the time being on a reactive position. Since Europe lacks a common view on how to deal with the Iraqi issue, what is left is only a more or less negative European perception of US intentions and tactics – still unclear at best.

In a realist but somewhat static view, we may argue that these basic features make any European role practically irrelevant. The individual European countries will find themselves, at some point, faced with a choice of "take it or leave it" with regard to a US decision. Unlike 1991 and the Afghan precedent, the temptation – almost a race – to "take" (that is, to offer some kind of direct participation and then claim some credit) will be less strong then the tendency to "leave" (that is, to stay out of the fight and keep a marginal role). But it is equally likely that most of the major European countries will eventually ratify an American action – once faced with an actual conflict.

Moreover, they will be directly affected by its consequences and thus will be unable to avoid a degree of involvement.

Allowing oneself a bit of wishful thinking, but with a more dynamic view, one can argue that it is precisely the divisions and uncertainties inside the US administration, and the recent emergence of a pretty heated debate, that could open up some space for a European role. As the doubts over the military rationale and economic costs of a conflict against Iraq mount in Washington, the existence of European reservations may even prove useful. What I will try to analyse in the second part of this paper is how and under which conditions. First, it is worthwhile to briefly illustrate the positions of individual European countries – since it is clear that any meaningful European role would imply a convergence between the major EU partners.

National positions

Lack of a common European position does not mean that there are no national attitudes and policies, which are somewhat more articulate. A look to the four major countries – plus Turkey, given its particular relevance to the Iraqi affair – shows the importance of a common thread: a majority of public opinion against military action. However, each government is reacting in its own way to this reality.

Germany: Iraq as an electoral issue

In the midst of an electoral campaign which finds him in an uncomfortable position, Schröder has decided to bring Iraq into the election debate, moving away from the US stance (and provoking a firm US diplomatic reaction). In the speech launching the Social Democratic Party's electoral campaign in Hannover (August 5), the German Chancellor declared: "Pressure on Saddam Hussein: yes. But I can only warn against playing games with war and military intervention. That won't be done with us". At the party level, the SPD has stated that Germany would not take active part in a conflict against Iraq even in the presence of a Security Council mandate [2]. And, in a former speech (August 2), Schröder, already declared that: "Every form of division of labour which says the Germans won't participate but they will pay; this form of division of labour doesn't exist any more – at least not with me".

Very explicit statements indeed, with a national flavour (the "German way" to Iraq) but also clearly affected by the pre-election climate; in any case, they seem to indicate that, from the current government's standpoint, an Afghan scenario is unlikely to repeat itself in Iraq.[3]

In a context of widespread national anti-war feeling, Stoiber's foreign-policy spokesman, Wolfgang Schäuble, criticized Schröder for making Iraq a campaign issue, adding that "nobody says now that we will never take part in military action" [4], since such a stand amounts to weakening deterrence vis-à-vis Iraq. On his part, Edmund Stoiber has openly termed "irresponsible" Schröder's position on Iraq [5]; on the whole, however, he has been taking a low profile stance so far, by defining an Iraq intervention as just hypothetical and then going back to the "UN-first" French-like position.[6]

My sense is that a victorious Stoiber would keep Germany in a marginal position with respect to the military conflict: no one in Washington, by the way, expects German to fight in Iraq anyway.[7] It is equally probable, however, that he would attempt – just like all other new entries among the European executives – to show good credentials to Washington by justifying the eventual US decisions (whatever they might be) rather than play the national card which Schröder is now gambling on as a last-minute electoral tactic to appeal to a large portion of German voters.

In fact, German officials say privately that Berlin will be side by side with Washington on Iraq, as long as the Bush administration convincingly makes its case and honestly seeks unconditional weapons inspections before going to war.

Political support without military participation: this will likely be, in the end, the German position.

France: The UN cover – or the Linus blanket?

Does France hold the same position? The two countries stated – in the joint declaration of the bilateral Schwerin summit of July 30 – that both consider it necessary to obtain a UNSC mandate before undertaking any military intervention against Iraq. And, in the concluding press conference, Jacques Chirac repeated that any attack against Iraq would have to be justified by a decision of the UNSC.[8]

It is likely – as shown by the cautious response France gave to the letter addressed (on August 1) by Naji Sabri to Kofi Annan – that Paris will maintain a UN-first line over the next few months, playing the card of UNMOVIC's return to Iraq, in agreement with Annan and perhaps with Moscow's cooperation. It is equally likely, however, that France will refrain from taking any high profile stance, given the serious risk of losing all of its stakes. Having already burned its fingers at Rambouillet, France is probably unwilling to take any chances of overexposure this time around, especially by embarking on a path that might well turn out to lead nowhere in terms of visibile political results.

Economic interests, moreover, are not as relevant as they were before: French officials emphasize that since 2001 – given her support to the smart sanctions program and the reduced volume of oil for food revenues – France has been losing around 70% of former legal contracts with Iraq. On regional priorities, France is clearly wary of US intensions. According to a French diplomat, while the Bush administration "is obsessed about Iraq … we are obsessed about achieving peace between Israeli and Palestinians"; "the important thing is to build a coalition for peace in the Middle East, not to build a coalition for war in Iraq".[9] Still, this point was absent from the French Foreign Minister's most recent speech, signalling an apparent decision to mute criticism of the US.[10]

French officials insist, privately, that their country's position is not – as Schröder's electoral stance is – against any French involvement in the use of force, but rather that the eventual use of force must be clearly legitimized. That implies, first, that the stated objective of an attack has to remain Iraqi's disarmament (according to UN Resolution 687) and not regime change; second, that military action is seen as an option of last resort – following other attempts to obtain renewed inspections. If that option fails, the UNSC would have to take a decision about an international military action to force respect of the cease-fire conditions. A fresh mandate, in strict legal terms, would not be necessary – even if that would clearly be France's preferred option.[11]

Going back to the initial question, France apparently sounds closer to Germany; but in fact perceives itself (at the government level, much more than among the public) as closer to Great Britain – especially given the gradual adjustment of the British position on the use of force against Iraq. This shows the weakness of the former Franco-German axis in European security issues, but also – given the current distance between Blair and Schröder on the Iraqi issue – the weakness of an eventual "tripolar" leadership in CFSP which is not still there.

Great Britain: Less easy than expected

Tony Blair, too, has a less smooth policy issue on his desk than he seemed to have just a few months ago. First, there has been the rise of vocal domestic critics, supported by the Anglican Church (led by the next Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams), significant sectors of the Labour Party, and important and bipartisan dissidents in Parliament. Then he must consider the growing anti-American perceptions in public opinion, according to a May poll published in The Economist. A more recent poll by Channel Four, made available in Mid-August, saw more than half of the population against sending British troops to Iraq in case of a war initiated by the United States. Second, there is strong resistance in the Foreign Office and among British uniformed officials – which seem to go hand in hand with the reservations expressed by sectors of the Pentagon. Third, Blair's strategic design – his ability to serve as authoritative go-between for the US and Europe – requires a capacity to deliver in order to remain credible. For now, in the Iraqi case this capacity is still very much in doubt. In last April's meeting with Bush, Blair has apparently failed to persuade the American President to choose a posture that the Europeans collectively consider more acceptable: to envisage an armed intervention against Iraq only after the successful launch of a solution – or at least a significant reduction in intensity – of the Arab-Israeli conflict. And, clearly, Blair's chosen role of "Transatlantic ambassador" gets much more challenging with the American lack of clarity on Iraq and the perceived widening of the Atlantic. It is doubtful, at present, whether Blair can in fact perform a function similar to what he did politically for the Afghan operation, i.e. make a convincing case for war and present it to the other Europeans.

For the time being, the British government has chosen, with Jack Straw, to indicate weapons inspectors as a means to reduce the threat by Iraq, leaving military action as a background option.[12]

In any event, the British "military" exception is bound to stay with us: the dispatch of the carrier Royal Oak to the Mediterranean, the recall of British forces from Afghanistan (which the Italian Defense Ministry stands ready to replace), the possible call for reservists in September, are all tangible signs of London's intention to directly participate in military operations in Iraq (in the land invasion scenario, apparently enjoying less support today than some time ago, the participation of 25,000 British soldiers was envisaged).

In any case, the domestic front signals that the Prime Minister's room for maneuver is much more limited that was initially assumed. For the necessary exercise in consensus-building Blair needs time, plus hard evidence of the threat posed by WMD in Iraqi hands. For these reasons London tends to exercise a restraining pressure on Washington.

Italy: The pro-US stance under probe

Prime Minister – and currently interim Foreign Minister as well – Silvio Berlusconi has not taken a high profile stance on Iraq yet. The center-left opposition, instead, has spoken against a military operation without a new UNSC Resolution. Italy, however, feels no urgency to take a strong position, as it would not have a direct military role but rather act in support (possibly by replacing some of the Anglo-American forces in Afghanistan, as anticipated by Defense Minister Martino: the decision, however, has not yet been discussed in the Parliament).

In case of war, the Italian government will not thus be able to rely on a bipartisan consensus - which was available for Kosovo and for Afghanistan. And it will be vulnerable to a widely critical public opinion, with an anti-war front comprising the pacifist movement (both on the left and among Catholics), despite the Vatican's less vocal condemnation of the war option than in 1991. In practice, it is almost certain that, faced with a US decision to move ahead with military operations, Rome would opt for supporting Washington politically: the unpalatable alternative for Berlusconi is to weaken the long-sought special link and positive relationship he has built with President Bush over the past year.

At the same time, the Italian government might conceivably try to capitalize on its perceived constructive relations with both the Arab countries and Moscow, launching some more or less realistic mediation effort. Some diplomatic sources say that Italy is currently engaged in a joint initiative between the Europeans and the Arab countries (the key counterparts being Egypt and Jordan) designed to exert a coordinated pressure on Saddam Hussein and persuade him to unconditionally accept the return of the weapons inspectors. However, the very same diplomatic sources admit they still have to secure the support of London and even Paris (neither of which is happy to grant Italy the role of chief mediator of their own Middle East policy).[13]

Turkey: the Western choice

Turkey, too, with a grave domestic political crisis on its hands, is trying to buy time. The Turkish Defense Chief of Staff, Kirvikoglu, has openly stated that his country is not capable of tackling a military emergency before 2003, in view of next November's electoral deadline. As it is well known, Turkey has its own distinctive concerns: above all, the feared creation of a Kurdish state in Northern Iraq (since the federal option is not regarded as credible by Ankara), and the repercussions of a war on Turkey's already battered economy. Having said this, Turkey has precious few realistic alternatives.

In case of conflict, it will have to support the US by at least granting use of the air bases and possibly by sending troops into Northern Iraq precisely in order to avoid the risk of its neighbour's fragmentation. Reports from Ankara suggest that Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz's July visit achieved informal understandings of Turkish-US military cooperation in toppling Saddam Hussein.[14]

So far, Ankara has reaped benefits from the US response to 9-11. It has been assigned the command of ISAF in Afghanistan and is reasserting a degree of influence in the Turkish-speaking area of the Caucusus and Central Asia, thanks to Washington's cooperation. At the same time, Ankara's relations with Moscow have improved with regard to this vast region. The combination of these geopolitical interests (guarded by the Turkish military) and the economic interests of the country (linked to IMF loans), produces a situation where the pro-Western component of Turkey's elite (now opposing Ecevit) cannot be weakened beyond a certain extent.

In sum, however uncomfortable Turkey's predicament vis-à-vis an Iraqi conflict, Ankara will have no choice but to be involved.[15]

Good and bad European arguments

Our analysis of the national positions shows that the European countries have a major common problem: how to manage their own domestic consensus, in a situation in which most European people do not consider Iraq a direct, imminent threat. From this perspective, selling Iraq to the Europeans involves making the case for war, starting with convincing evidence about the WMD threat. A pretty solid argument of course would be provided by reliable intelligence information that al Qaeda has been testing and possibly building crude chemical weapons with active help from the Baghdad regime or even in Iraq proper. Unconfirmed hints that something along these lines may actually be occurring in Iraqi Kurdistan is indeed a difficult piece of news to handle, since that portion of Iraq is actually out of control for Saddam Hussein.

Threat assessment

Looking at threat perceptions it is probably true that one of the major weaknesses of any positions the Europeans take in discussing Iraq with Washington is that there is no apparent serious thinking – except in Britain – about the WMD threat.

On the other hand, uncertainties abound in assessing Iraqi capabilities. US sources – based on satellite and aerial imagery – believe Baghdad is secretly storing a significant quantity of chemical warfare agents – a conclusion shared by independent analysis.[16] The same is true for biological weapon capability: since UNSCOM reported in 1998 that Iraq had failed to provide a full account of its biological weapons program, the widespread assessment is that – in the absence of inspections – Iraq retains stockpiles of biological agents. British sources recently estimated that Iraq could rebuild its biological warfare programme within months. French intelligence, according to unconfirmed sources, goes in the same direction. Still – as emerged in the hearings held before the US Senate last month – no unequivocal evidence of the resumption of Iraq's proscribed programmes has yet been collected.

As for nuclear capability, US intelligence agencies do not believe that Iraq has a nuclear weapon or is near to acquiring one. Moreover, according to independent analysts, nobody knows when Iraq might have the means to deliver chemical or biological weapons.[17] Since 1998, according to the US Iraq has kept some twenty Scud type ballistic missiles despite UNSCOM accounting: these systems, however, are likely to be poorly mantained.[18]

In the end, there is no evidence that Iraq has a nuclear weapon, or will soon have one; but it almost certainly has chemical and biological agents that would complicate any military actions. It is not clear, however, whether and how these capabilities are increasing in the absence of UN inspections, and when Iraq will have the means to deliver those biological or chemical agents. Threat assessment remains a difficult exercise, in a situation in which "we do not know what we do not know; and this is why – whatever the truth is – inspectors have to go back in".[19]

In addition, it can be argued that weapons inspectors were able to destroy more facilities, missiles and weapons after the Gulf war than during actual military operations – an argument for an approach to pre-emption that should focus on intrusive inspections and more containment, rather than a new military campaign.

In short: threat assessment divides the two sides of the Atlantic. Europeans have a point in underlining the lack of convincing evidence about not only the links between Saddam and Al Qaeda; but also about current Iraqi capabilities. But their unwillingness to seriously consider even the potential, longer-term Iraqi threat as a priority weakens their bargaining position vis-à-vis Washington.[20]

Regime change: can it be the stated goal?

Since Iraq is not perceived as an imminent threat, the Europeans clearly wish to buy time; they all (including Great Britain) would prefer to give a last chance to the return of the inspectors. If that involves a credible "unconditional" basis, such an opportunity – for the Europeans – would be worth grabbing.

This scenario – if ever implemented – would show the existence of one basic difference between the US and the Europeans: for the US, regime change has been declared as an end in itself; for the Europeans, containment – when successful – would be enough.

In other terms: Europeans (including Great Britain, again) see the only legitimate goal of external policies vis-à-vis Iraq as curbing the Iraqi threat – not toppling Saddam.

A change of government in Iraq would be welcomed, as a consequence of the use of force; but it cannot be the stated aim of an action whose legitimate goal has to remain curbing the WMD threat and forcing respect of UN Resolutions.

With the inspectors back on an unconditional basis, Europeans would clearly find it even more difficult to endorse the scenario of a violent removal of Saddam Hussein.

That very difference shows not only Transatlantic differences over the legal boundaries of "external intervention" for regime change purposes; but also different perceptions about how to stabilize the Greater Middle East.

A different set of priorities in the Middle East

European reservations contain, from this region-wide angle, good arguments: legitimate, again, but quite shaky as well.

The first has to do with the Israeli-Palestinian issue: confronting Iraq is not the immediate priority – so runs the argument from the European capitals – because we first need to "solve" the Palestinian issue. This means at least restarting a meaningful peace process. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in the European perception, is and has to remain the highest priority. Opening a new war front now would deepen the regional crisis, dragging in, this time, Israel. It would fracture the anti-terrorism coalition, and make life harder for moderate Arab states. For Javier Solana, it will be "very, very difficult" to sustain allied support for an assault against Iraq unless progress is first made towards creating a Palestinian State. It will be very difficult, for instance, having the Palestinian elections during a build up for war in Iraq.[21] Timing, for the Europeans, is thus narrow enough (on the Israeli-Palestinian front), to suggest a delay of plans for Iraq.

But frankly, no one has indicated (or can realistically indicate) at what stage a "peace process" would be sufficiently established and self-sustaining to enable the West to tackle Iraq.

The US knows this, and the European argument is viewed as little more than a way to slow down the course of events.

The US, moreover, seems to think that toppling Saddam Hussein first can produce positive (and not negative, as the Europeans think) regional consequences. A new US attitude could emerge over the next few months, in which a grand "vision" for the greater Middle East is set forth. Such a vision (sketched out in an embryonic form by Robert Kagan in a July piece in the IHT and later "dramatized" by the RAND briefing on the future of Saudi Arabia) could include the attempt to eliminate the Saddam regime in Iraq, but also a major push to set up a closely monitored new regime and actually make it the centerpiece of a very ambitious US strategy to democratize the Middle East. Now, it is by no means certain that this very high profile policy will prevail over more traditional and modest alternatives; however, the current state of US-Saudi relations, and the vastly incomplete Iranian transition to a full reintegration in the international community, make such thinking more attractive than in the past. The pillars of stability in the region are not solid (Turkey is also less stable than in recent years, in some respects, as it gets closer to potential EU candidacy; and Israel is clearly losing a series of public relations battles without gaining in terms of security); thus, a proactive and high-risk approach becomes less unthinkable from a US perspective.

All this would have the value of providing the Bush administration with a much broader purpose in attacking Saddam: seizing a regional opportunity rather than just getting rid of a kind of personal enemy and settling old scores.

The Europeans, however, are highly skeptical about a grand plan to democratize the Middle East. More specifically, they do not share the confident view that a US intervention in Iraq will not only finish off Saddam Hussein but also unlock the Israeli-Palestinian question and usher in a new era of democracy and reform in the greater Middle East.[22] The order of priorities – as seen above – is rather believed to be in the reverse.

Still, the European approach sounds more like a status-quo attitude than an alternative view on how the region could be stabilized: the old remnants of the Barcelona process, combined with some new collective steps (such as the trade agreement with Iran), indicate the usual preference for engagement – but without enough money and without a clear strategic design. Oil European lobbies – traditionally searching for business in the holes left by the big failures of the "double containment" – also apparently favour the status quo – more than a geopolitical shift able to promise a new, and more difficult competition between oil actors.

Listing a different set of priorities in the region and in the greater Middle East, European officials finally add that it would be crucial, before opening a new war front, to achieve some stability in Afghanistan, where the security of the interim Karzai government is not to be taken for granted, due to given the external reluctance to deploy enough troops, an issue looming large, and largely amplified, in a post-conflict Iraq.

The future of Iraq

Another legitimate European argument has to do with the consequences of a war on the future of Iraq itself, both from a military and a political viewpoint. It is true that on this side of the Atlantic we tend to exaggerate the consequences of a military operation; but in this case the unknowns are indeed very significant – from possible use of chemical/biological weapons by Saddam to a retaliation against Israel (which will likely react this time) to a fragmentation of the country.

To be brief: the European perception is that a second Gulf War on Iraq would be a wholly new chapter. Thus, the scenario of a massive land invasion from both North and South (requiring 250,000 troops) is viewed as too dangerous and costly in terms of human losses as well as regional repercussions: this is, incidentally, the only option that would imply a relevant active role for British forces and possibly the deployment of European mine-hunters and minesweepers like in 1991. An alternative scenario of massive and extended air strikes without support from land forces is not believed to be effective, given the fragility of any internal opposition to Saddam, and will pose daunting problems in managing domestic consensus both in the West and in the Arab world. In this case, European support would be de facto irrelevant, also due to the Pentagon's resistance to sharing command of the operations.

An "in-out" scenario to decapitate the Iraqi regime provoking a coup by elements of the regime itself, would theoretically be preferable but would present many uncertainties (past attempts to encourage internal revolts have failed abysmally) and considered illusory by most European observers and analysts. In any case, under this option British special forces would support US special forces with the infiltration tasks.

The European perception is that, in any of the hypotheses under discussion, an Iraqi intervention will not be another Desert Storm, another Kosovo or another Afghanistan. And unless a new grand coalition of the 1991 type is put together, something which is currently not in the cards, the European supporting role would be marginal – with the exception of British forces and the logistical cooperation of Turkey.

From the very beginning of the Iraqi debate, moreover, the Europeans have been asking questions not only about the risks of a military action - in which, as seen above, Europe's military irrelevance makes its doubts irrelevant too. But also on the post-war scenarios – and here, on the contrary, Europe's role in any re-building effort make its questions legitimate ones. From this point of view, it is likely that the Europeans will tend to support the more "realist" view of a post-war Iraq as envisaged by the State Department (a new authoritarian post-Saddam leadership) rather than the grander visions apparently sponsored by the Defence Department (a democratic government, to serve as an example for the rest of the region) and supported by some of the Iraqi opposition organisations.[23] As argued above and already shown by the European reactions (including British ones) to the regime change theory in Palestine, the Europeans are not particularly confident about the idea that forcing western-style democracies in the region is an easy exercise. With specific regard to Iraq, the dominant view is that the historic hostility between Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites would lead to bitter infighting over power-sharing and oil resources.

Rather than working with the fragmented opposition groups – with whom only London has sufficiently close links – the other Europeans will tend to look for any chances of an internal change of the guard in the Iraqi regime. This is also consistent with the overriding logic of keeping the country united, since a disintegration would destabilize its neighbours too.

This fundamental concern – which is also a Turkish priority – requires an arrangement between the Shiites in the South (led by Ayatollah Hakim) and the Kurds in the North regarding the political future of Iraq. To this end, Iranian support also becomes necessary, although this might be less difficult to get than one might think. Both Russia and Europe itself would welcome and facilitate a deeper Iranian involvement.[24]

In broader terms, Europe and Russia (plus some of the Arab states) could find common grounds with respect to Middle East priorities and particularly on how to deal with Iraq. But it is quite evident that neither Europe nor Russia will value their mutual relations more than their ties to the US. In addition, on the European side there is a fear that, as with NMD, an American-Russian deal may have already been struck (whereby the Russians would get the economic compensation they ask for) – even if Russia' s domestic management of the Iraqi dossier seems complex enough to defy easy predictions.

The Arabs are divided over this issue. King Abdallah has clearly stated that attacking Iraq before having solved the Palestinian issue is far too dangerous. But according to some, in the end he might be ready to provide a strategically important logistical rearguard which could facilitate operations designed to take control of Western Iraq – a crucial task if the chance of Iraqi missiles hitting Israel is to be reduced. Regime change might actually be in Jordan's interest after all, although the hypothesis of a return of the Hashemite monarchy in Baghdad appears unrealistic. Saudi Arabia and Syria certainly prefer a weak Iraq under Saddam Hussein to a new regime that might become a regional competitor in alliance with the US. Egypt, too, is fearful of such a prospect. And most of them are anxious not to lose the advantages derived each year from illegal trade – which has abundantly voided the smart sanctions program.

Ultimately, it can be ruled out that Europe, Russia and the Arab states will join forces (which would de facto end up being a coalition designed to contain the US itself, not Iraq). This is certainly a good thing, given the devastating effects it would have on transatlantic relations.

A new UNSC mandate?

Good or legitimate arguments are combined, in the European positions, with "formalistic" arguments. I would include in this category the position whereby a military action will in any case require fresh legitimacy emanating directly from the UNSC.

It goes without saying that a renewed UNSC approval would be highly preferable in terms of international legitimacy and support [25] – also because it is legally disputable whether a military operation has already been legitimized by the repeated violation of existing cease-fire Resolutions. The US Administration [26], the British Government and some French officials think so: but the debate will unavoidably go on.

My view is that this very issue – whether or not to go for a new UNSC mandate – cannot be put on the table as a sort of precursor to collective action. It must, instead, be left to the final end of a more complex strategy.

In order to take a credible UN-first line, the Europeans would have to follow, in fact, a much more concrete and more explicit path, taking two coherent steps together.

First: exercise serious, intense and sustained pressure on Saddam Hussein, giving him one last chance to re-admit the arms inspectors forced out in 1998. According to an Italian diplomat, the Europeans have so far attempted only half-hearted pressure and, in some cases, rather ambiguous policies, affected by the economic stakes promoted by various lobbies which have never given up links with Iraq, and weakened by the lack of a real threat perception. In other words, at least some of the European countries have not pursued even the containment option in a serious manner.

Second: state explicitly that either Saddam accept the kind of intrusive and unconditional inspection regime requested, or other means to enforce the UN Resolution on Iraqi disarmament – including military action – will become unavoidable.

As rightly noted by Christoph Bertram, European governments must not only demand unconditional inspections; they must also lobby within the UN – whatever the practical results – for using international force should Saddam Hussein fail to bend to other pressures This is not the case where opposition from Russia would be unavoidable (Moscow, as said before, is not going to risk the relationship with the West for the sake of Saddam Hussein), nor China's abstention impossible. Europe could for instance suggest that the Quartet on the Middle East (including the EU, Russia, the US, the UN) held meetings also on Iraq, devising the broad-lines of an agreed international strategy on how to deal, at this point, with Saddam. The existence of a joint-position – on forcing the inspectors back and acting in the case it fails – would clearly reinforce the international hand with Saddam. The format Quartet would underline the connections between one crisis and the other in the Greater Middle East.

An extremely slippery slope would have to be walked, probably by indicating a deadline beyond which such use of force would be considered. Otherwise, an endless debate would ensue on when "enough is enough".

Only the credibility of the latter position makes the former credible. Without the latter – missing so far, except in the British stance – the European reference to complying with UN Resolutions becomes purely formalistic. More importantly, this undermines the good arguments against the wisdom of the current US approach.

Summing up. My opinion is that the Europeans are advancing meaningful arguments, but by not taking seriously the problem of what to do in case of a continuing stalemate renders them shallow. In a sense, if it is true that whatever concession Saddam will make is not going to satisfy the US to give up on regime change (as Javier Solana has put it, "if Saddam thinks that this option is inexorable, why would he yield to inspectors?" [27]), it is also true that whatever violation Saddam will continue to pursue, it seems insufficient for the Europeans to contemplate a reaction.[28] A two-step position, as sketched out above, is needed: giving, in a sense, British (explicit) and French (less explicit and probably more ambiguous) attitudes a wider European backing.

The "Europe speak-up" scenario

The assumption behind such a Europe "speak-up scenario" – considered to be a positive one by some American analysts [29] – is that only when the US and Europe are united behind the demand for effective inspections, including the threat of the use of force, they stand a chance to get their way.

Just as the Europeans – sharing a credible threat – would enforce the deterrence side of the equation, so would the Americans – giving up on regime change as an end in itself, independently of inspections – increase the chances of succeeding in pressuring Saddam. A re-balancing and re-calibrating is needed on both sides. It is one thing to punish Iraqi violations of UN resolutions, it is a totally different one to strike at a cooperative Iraq. On this crucial point, as seen above, Britain too has distanced itself from the Bush administration, affirming that the objective has to remain ending the threat of WMD, and not regime change per se – however desirable it may be.[30]

It is true that the chances of Iraq becoming cooperative under Saddam are slim. If past behaviour is any guide, the cautious openings which the regime is currently making towards the UN are likely to be tactical maneuvers to gain time and divide the Security Council as well as the West. The letter sent by Naji Sabri to Kofi Annan on August 1 – containing the invitation to Hans Blix for discussions in Baghdad on UNMOVIC's missions, after the third round of talks with the UN broke down in Vienna in early July – has generated, not accidentally, different reactions: intransigence in Washington, scepticism in London, satisfaction in Moscow (where this is seen as a result of a mission of Russian deputy Foreign Minister, Alexandr Saltanov's mission to Iraq), and an interested wait and see attitude in Paris and Rome.[31] In any case, Kofi Annan's spokesman said that the procedure proposed by Baghdad "is at variance with the one laid down by the SC in its resolution 1284", a position later adopted by the Security Council as a whole.[32]

Many observers believe that Washington will impose conditions for unfettered inspections that are so strict as to be unacceptable to Saddam. This could open the way for differing interpretations in the US, Europe and Russia on what "unconditional inspection" means.

It is crucial that this outcome be avoided – conferring enough credit to Blix's personal assessment. Only a joint international position – as said before – will be capable of forcing Saddam to accept the UNSC conditions.

In the end, however, there may be no alternative to using force where international law, diplomatic pressure, economic sanctions and military threats have been to no avail. If it comes to that, as seen before, the Europeans will have no choice other than to support it – even by playing a marginal military role.

Therefore, it is in Europe's interest that such a military operation, if it has to occur, be understood as the inevitable result of a collective political strategy pursued to the very end and in an honest manner; not as the unilateral choice of the superpower which cannot be refused. In this scenario – as hinted above – a fresh UNSC mandate would be preferable in my view; but it will not prove to be indispensable.

Supporting the use of force against Saddam will not be easy for European leaders who share with their voters – as seen before – a deep scepticism towards the use of force for political ends.

Yet, this two-fold strategy is clearly in Europe's best interests. At least for two reasons: first, because it puts any eventual use of force within an international framework – however uncertain its configuration may be; and, second, because it allows European governments to shape the issue in their respective domestic context, instead of appearing hypnotized by what the US might or might not do.

Implications for US-Europe relations

Showing that they take the threat posed by WMD in Iraq seriously, Europeans could also reasonably claim a right to discuss preventively the costs and implications of forceful action against Iraq. Such consequences and costs will obviously affect different European interests, from the strategic balance in the Middle East to economic repercussions of an armed clash. From this latter perspective, Europeans will likely argue for an "economy-first" approach to security, cautioning against the economic implications of a conflict (surge in oil prices, inflationary pressures) in rather fragile economic times.

We cannot in fact entirely dismiss a scenario in which President Bush simply postpones the military stage through the winter, while pressing for UN inspections and getting something also thanks to Russian and European mediation. If we reach the Spring of 2003 with no massive military offensive ready to start, a focus on the economy might prevail in Washington too, in order to ensure that Bush comes out as a good domestic President while the 2004 Presidential campaign enters its active phase. This delay option, justified with economy-first reasons, would certainly be supported by the Europeans – as mentioned above.

Indeed, European reserves could in the end offer President Bush a hand in devising a face-saving line (from overexposure on Iraq).

Again in terms of economic costs, post-conflict management would in any case require a strong European contribution both in financial terms and in terms of providing troops for peacekeeping tasks: according to some forecasts, an international force able to guarantee a post-Saddan stability would need at last 75,000 troops. This would be needed at a time when the Europeans are showing clear signs of dissatisfaction (see Shroeder's statements mentioned above) with a division of labor where their role is confined to that of the Transatlantic "cleaning lady" – an expensive role in the long run.

Even recognizing that the US is now willing and able to conduct large scale operations on its own and that Europe is becoming superfluous in this context, the implications of an Iraqi military conflict will be measured by a significant level of tension across the Atlantic should substantive preventive consultations be lacking on conflict and post-conflict scenarios.

A situation of "polite mutiny" on the part of European allies, as suggested by Pfaff, would also be very grave for future relations: it would amount, in practice, to a "no" to a US attack on Iraq regardless of circumstances.[33] This scenario, however, is most improbable: as we have seen, politically, the major partners (possibly including a post-electoral Germany) will end up supporting an American action in some way, though not necessarily taking part in it. NATO's European facilities, moreover, are useful but not indispensable: which European country is ready to risk the US' political wrath by moving first, when in practice a large scale military offensive would still be conducted, thanks (worst of all) to the last minute concession by some other European country, coupled with availability from Turkey and a few Arab countries?

Barring a speak-up (i.e. positive) scenario or a polite mutiny (negative) one, Europe would in the end remain with a purely reactive posture, subordinated to American choices that are still in the making. At that point, only the level of public relations and communications efforts, along with the form and duration of the military phase, would determine the higher or lower level of tension in domestic opinion across the continent. Most of the governments will likely fall into line.

In conclusion, while America debates the how and when of going to war with Iraq, Europe has to go back to reality. In all the possible scenarios, Europe will in any case be involved: to stay on the sidelines will only be a temporary illusion.

It is wiser, then, to try something else first – make a credible renewed international attempt to force Baghdad to accept intrusive inspections. If that fails, regime change may become a Western – more than an American – security choice.

(Rome, August 28, 2002)

[1] See Declaration by the Presidency on Behalf of the EU on Iraq, May 20, which "calls on Iraq to comply with the Resolutions without delay, in particular by agreeing to the return on inspectors to Iraq in accordance with Resolution 1284", Brussels, 20 May 2002, 8884/02 (Press 143).

[2] Financial Times, August 6 2002, p. 2

[3] Financial Times, August 5 2002, p. 1

[4] IHT, August 6, 2002, p. 1

[5] Le Monde, 27 Août 2002,p. 1

[6] "The monopoly on decision-making and action on this question lies with the United Nations. Unilateral moves on this issue by a country, without consultation with, or a mandate from, the international community, are not compatible with this": this the wording by Stoiber on August 28, Financial Times, August 29, p. 2

[7] IHT, August 6, 2202,p. 1

[8] Bulletin Quotidien Europe, n. 8267, 1 Août, 2002 and Le Monde, 8 Août 2002,p. 2

[9][][] See Patrick E. Tyler, Europeans Split with U.S. on Need for Iraq Attack, The New York Times, July 21, 2002.

[10] De Villepin's speech opened the Conference of the French Ambassadors. See France shifting stance on Iraq, IHT, 29 August 2002, p. 1

[11] My interviews in Paris, end of August 2002.

[12] Straw plays down Iraq war talk, BBC News, 22 August 2002.

[13] Iniziativa italiana per una soluzione pacifica, Il Corriere della Sera, August 8 2002, p. 11

[14] IHT, August 9, 2002,p. 5 ("Talking of attacking Iraq is already paying dividends").

[15] According to Özdem Sanberk, former diplomat and now director of the Turkish Economic and social studies Foundation, "Our policy is a little bit like Britain's. We do not want the operation to be carried out but, if it is, we have no choice but to be involved", quoted in Quentin Peel, Indifference in Washington, Financial Times, August 5, 2002.

[16] Iraq's WMD Arsenal: Deadly but Limited (Carnegie Endowment Issue Brief 11), August 28, 2002.

[17] See the hearing to the US Senate by Jon Wolfsthal,

[18] The agencies conclude that for the next several years at least Iraq will not advance beyond MRBM systems and is unlikely to test any ICBMs before 2015. See again Iraq' WMD Arsenal (Footnote 16)

[19] Fouad El Khatib, Iraq and Weapons of Mass Destruction (IISS, Unpublished Paper).

[20] According to a French official, the reason why the Europeans are less sensitive to WMD threat also depends on bureaucratic reasons: understaffing (on proliferations issues) in Foreign and Defence Ministries and lack of intelligence are the rule – more than the exception.

[21] See the interview reported by Patrick E. Tyler in the New York Times, July 21, 2002.

[22] Steven Everts, Some strategies work better than force, IHT, August 1, 2002.

[23] Special Report: America and Iraq, The Economist, 3-9 August 2002, p. 20-22.

[24] According to Richard Perle, Iran would eventually come down on the US side. See the interview he gave to Politique Internationale, n.95|2002. See also the results of discussions by the Iraqi opposition in Tehran in early August, as reported by Jim Hoagland, IHT, August 9, 2002, p. 5.

[25] For the reasons explained, among other, by Richard C. Holbooke, "Bush should seek Security Council approval", IHT, August 28, 2002, p.7. For a legal view against a military operation without a new UNSC mandate (and without a new Congressional Approval: what the author defines as the "double unilateralism") see Bruce Ackerman, But What's The Legal Case For Preemption?, The Washington Post, August 18, 2002.

[26] According to Mr. Cheney it would be a useless, if not a dangerous delay to seek a new UN Resolution. According to the White House, moreover, the President does not need Congressional approval, even if he would "consult" with Congress about Iraq. See "Cheney Says Peril of a Nuclear Iraq Justifies an Attack", The NYT, August 27, 2002.

[27] See again Patrick E. Tyler, Footnote 9.

[28] See Roberto Toscano, CFSP and Transatlantic Relations, in the forthcoming issue of Aspenia.

[29] Ivo Daalder and James Lindasy, Speak Up, Europe, Financial Times, August 9, 2002.

[30] See the interview to a British Official in Tyler's article, Footnote 9.

[31] Evelyn Leopold, UN skeptical on new Iraqi offer of Arms Talks, Reuters, August 2.

[32] According to Hans Blix, the Iraqi thesis (that which are the unresolved issues and how will these issue be tackled should be agreed upon with UNMOVIC before the resumption of inspections) is not acceptable, "for the very good reason that before [such an understanding] we need to see what changes have occurred on the ground in Iraq since the end of 1998" – according to the Resolution creating his inspection team.

[33] William Pfaff, Nato's Europeans could say no, IHT, July 25 2002, p. 6.